MILTON — Tucson Barlow fled a religious sect in the Midwest without education or clear goals but said he was able to transform his life through programs at the Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit (CSIU).

The 25-year-old Paxinos resident on Monday was presented with the prestigious 2020 Governor’s Achievement Youth Award with guidance from CSIU's YES to the Future program, which focuses on providing education and employment services to young adults aged 16-24, in nine Central Pennsylvania counties. The Governor’s Achievement Awards are presented to outstanding participants in workforce development who have overcome obstacles and achieved success.

"It's broadened my horizons vastly," said Barlow at the CSIU headquarters in Milton. "I thought there was nothing for me. I thought I'd be a hermit and overweight forever. There was never any hope with that mindset."

Barlow, one of 12 children, said he and his family left The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS Church) in Utah after his father was excommunicated. Tuscon's mother could have been forced to marry another member of the sect, but they made a trip to the thrift store, filled up a bag of clothing and left in the van, driving to their father's home and severing all ties with family and friends in the sect.

Barlow had no formal education beyond the third grade. As a young adult, with the support of his older brother, he traveled across the country to Pennsylvania in 2017 for a new start. Barlow had no driver’s license and little work experience.

In 2018, Barlow enrolled in the YES to the Future Program, which is designed to develop the potential of young adults by improving educational achievement, helping them prepare for and succeed in employment and providing 12 months of follow-up services. Through the program, Barlow worked to earn his GED, obtained a driver’s license, secured a job at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville and purchased his first car. He now works as a sterile technician at Geisinger and plans to study surgical technology.

He also improved his mental and physical health, having lost 130 pounds.

Life in the religious sect was "terrifying," he said. He always felt guilty for simple actions and was encouraged not to educate himself.

"I feel amazing now," he said.

Barlow's career counselor Tim Musselman said Barlow is a "shining example" of what the award represents.

"It's been amazing seeing him blossom," said Musselman. "When we first met, he was very reserved and hesitant to talk. He really took advantage of every opportunity he had."

CSIU director of community outreach Bernadette Boerckel told Barlow that she and the others involved with Barlow are proud of his "perseverance and journey he took" to reach this day.

"You're a model to others who found themselves in situations like this," she said. "I love the team you had backing you, I love the goals you set. You have tremendous goals for yourself.

Alexa Hann, Youth Programs manager at Central Pennsylvania Workforce Development Corporation (CPWDC) who oversees the implementation of YES to The Future, said his program counselors and team at CSIU and CPWDC nominated Barlow for the award. The ceremony is usually held in May in Hershey, but the COVID-19 pandemic meant doing a virtual ceremony last week with the other winners in other categories.

“Tucson’s strength and perseverance along with his focus to achieve goals with the help of the YES to the Future program was a perfect recipe for success," said Hann. "We could not be more excited for or proud of Tucson and what he has achieved and will continue to achieve in the future.”

YES to the Future is available for young adults ages 16 to 24 who are not enrolled in school and reside in Columbia, Montour, Northumberland, Snyder and Union counties. It is funded by Central Pennsylvania Workforce Development Corporation and the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry.

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